Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Authors: Fine-tuning a Definition of Success.

The original of this blog post was revised in 2018.
In the first blog on this topic, I explained that my definition being a “successful writer” has changed in the nearly four years I’ve been writing professionally. To review, here are the first three iterations.
My first definition of success was “get published.”
My second definition of success was “make money.”
My third definition of success was “getting books out.”

My fourth definition of success was “be patient, Grasshopper.”
The third definition of success refers to the frenzied publishing schedule I fell victim to. I know now that patient working with a book is a sign my maturation as an author.

There is no excuse or reason for publishing a book that is littered with errors in grammar, spelling, or sentence structure.
There are ways to reduce the number of those types of errors without significant financial outlay. As stand-alone options, they each have value. Used collectively, these options have more value than the sum of the individual methods.

I use only the free version. This does a good job at pointing out certain types of grammar issues, including most common comma errors. Grammarly was revised in early 2018. The free version finds fewer types of mistakes. While it is now less valuable than when I began using it, Grammarly is still a good place to start checking for errors.

Grammarly does not use the same algorithm that MSWord uses for grammar. You have to decide which of the experts you want to use for direction. Whether you use Grammarly’s grammar rules or MSWord’s rules, there will be types of grammar not checked, particularly the current free version of Grammarly.

Grammarly’s Premium upgrade carries with it a monthly fee. I don’t use that version.

This shows the current FREE version. It checks only spelling and punctuation.
Screenshot of a poorly edited file in the "old" free version of Grammarly. Clicking on the "down arrow" opened a dialog window with suggested edits--you selected the one you liked. Clicking on the red or green print made the change for you. I suspect this is included in the paid version.

This is a powerful tool. However, unless you subscribe, you have a 500-word limit to what you can check. This has an annual or multiyear fee including a lifetime offer.
This is part of the summary report offered. It scrolls down several screens.
You can have it emailed to you.
The Grammar Check screen. Each icon in the top menu bar produces a report.

The newest version (3.0.2 at the time of posting) of this inexpensive (currently $19.95 one-time cost that includes desktop use) software provides feedback in dramatic fashion. It uses various colors to highlight issues in your manuscript.
A screenshot of Hemingway. It's obvious where you need to consider your phraseology and sentence construction.
While these are valuable sources of information, all of them remove the formatting of your text. If you copy/paste or open a saved version of any of these, you have to reformat the text. 
I find it easiest to keep my original open and make the corrects in it rather than in the Grammarly or Hemingway file. The ProWritingAid copy/paste is the closest to what I uploaded.

Visual “tricks.”
Near the end of my editing process, I use two features of Word in tandem. These work because your brain’s preset for reading is black print on white paper with letters of a size regularly used in documents or books. Both tricks that follow are different enough from the norm that your brain focuses more tightly what you are reading.

First I color the background of my manuscript before editing.

This is a simple process. It’s not permanent, and the color does not print. It forces your brain to see the words differently than the normal black print on the white background you use while writing. Some background colors leave the print black. Others—dark blue, purple, and black—generate your text in white. When your brain is working outside the “norm,” it will see mistakes you’ve missed up to that time. Ultimately, more errors are found and you have a better piece of work

Second, I zoom the size of the file on my screen to at least 200%.

The oversized print forces your brain to interpret the words in a different manner—more errors are found.

For maximum benefit, switch colors and zoom levels periodically. Remember, your brain will pay closer attention to what it perceives as a new form of data—more errors are found.
This is my computer screen with the zoom at 200% and a purple background. The blue blobs are paragraph symbols. You can see the tab characters in blue as well. Notice the gray paragraph symbol in the top menu bar. I have that turned "on" whenever I write. It shows me the formatting I've selected throughout the manuscript.

Final recommendation

You wrote your story. Each word in the story was your idea. Your brain is a jealous and lazy organ. It inherently wants to keep what it thought up and delivered to your story in the first draft. It’s not good at pointing out all errors in a manuscript you wrote.

After you’ve done all the above, close the file.
Don’t look at it again for at least one week.
Two weeks without looking is better.
Three or more weeks is not too long to wait until you read through the manuscript again.

By giving your brain a break from the routine of editing, when you revisit the work, your brain is much less vested in the content. I suspect you will be shocked—or at least surprised—by the number of wrong words, punctuation errors, and sentence issues you find.

Used alone, none of these options—Grammarly à font size—is sufficient for preparing a novel-length manuscript for publication. Even if used collectively, these options are insufficient for preparing a novel-length manuscript for publication. However, each of the above is a separate edit and adds time to your writing process. “Be patient, Grasshopper.”

“Be patient, Grasshopper.”
Take time to wait until you can afford some level of professional editing or proofreading.

“Be patient, Grasshopper.”
Ask around.
Find an editor or proofreader that has good relationships with several authors.

“Be patient, Grasshopper.”
Establish a timeline that allows you to use the professional without stressing you or badgering the editor/proofreader.

My current definition of success is being able to  “do what you do because you like what you’re doing.”
This sounds like
·      I’ve turned my back on fame and fortune.
·      I’ve turned my back on fortune.
·      I’ve turned my back on productivity.
·      I’ve turned my back on goals and deadlines.

Not one of those is the case.

What I learned while writing and what I now consider to be successful writing is developing quality stories around characters people can identify with in a believable setting while navigating a well-constructed plot.

A manuscript produced through this process can be successful
·      because the time involved in that venture led to a quality end product.
·      with or without being named to a “best-seller” list.

I worked with student authors for three years. Watching them mature in their understanding of the writing process, reading the stories they developed, and listening to their conversations about lessons they’ve learned have added credence to the validity of my current definition.

I’m not naive enough to think that this is the last iteration of my definition of successful writing.
I believe it could be.
I could live the rest of my career and define my work in this way and be fulfilled.

Four years ago, I never considered any definition of writing success except “get published.”

I am grateful that my outlook has matured.

I will Review: ProWritingAid in early 2019.

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I invite you to comment on Blogger.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Reprise. A Science Guy's Almanac #4: What John Glenn and I have in common - Re: 2/20/1962

This was one of my first Almanac posts. 
It is appropriate to reprise it today because
1. It's the actual anniversary of the event (and my b'day)
2. The movie "Hidden Figures" features this event and is just ending its run in theaters.
3. John Glenn died in December of 2016. USA Today report.

Re: February 20, 1962

My twelfth birthday was February 20, 1962. On that morning, John Glenn blasted off from Cape Canaveral in a tiny Mercury space capsule. As far as I know, my birthdate and Glenn's orbital mission are all I have in common with the astronaut. 

His mission was to be the first American to orbit the earth. The photograph below shows Glenn standing beside his wife and Friendship 7 in 2002. You can see the size of the capsule—just big enough for one astronaut and the electronics to keep him up. And hopefully bring him down safely.

Notice in the diagram of the capsule that its technical name included the term ballistic. In reality, Glenn’s spacecraft sat atop at huge missile—really a metal tube filled with explosive fuel—so the ballistic descriptor was more accurate than anyone really wanted to admit.

The sum total of the computing power of Friendship 7 was, using a generous term, small. By today’s standards, microscopic would be more appropriate. The majority of the computing during the slightly less than 5-hour flight was done at Goddard Space Center in Maryland. The amount of technology actually available to Glenn was far less than a 2015 smartphone. Or as one comment made to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the flight reads:

It's amazing to think that the tiny laptop that I'm posting this from has hundreds of times the computing power than was involved in the whole Friendship project.

I remember sitting a watching the lift off. We were mesmerized. We watched the splashdown on television at school.

Splashdown. That’s what they called all the Mercury and Apollo landings. The small crafts crashed into the ocean. There were parachutes that slowed the descent somewhat, but the astronauts splashed into the sea. Inflatable bags—labeled RECOVERY AIDS in the diagram—deployed and a beacon began transmitting.

Over a dozen Navy vessels were in the general area of the planned splashdown. At least one had to arrive before the minimal flotation system failed and the capsule—most probably with the astronaut inside—would sink into the briny deep.

According to the New York Daily News the day after the event:

But the astronaut, who had maintained part-manual control of the space capsule for the last two orbits, dropped gently to a safe parachute landing in the Atlantic 800 miles southeast of this launch site.
Remaining inside the capsule, Glenn was swiftly picked up by the destroyer Noa, a recovery ship on station a scant six miles from the spot where the spacecraft touched down at 2:43 P.M.

Wikipedia portrays a slightly more time-distant perspective.
According to a chart printed in the NASA publication Results of the First United States Manned Orbital Space Flight, Feb. 20, 1962, the spacecraft splashed down in the Atlantic at coordinates near 21°20′N 68°40′W, 40 miles (60 km) short of the planned landing zone. Retrofire calculations had not taken into account spacecraft weight loss due to use of onboard consumables. The USS Noa, a destroyer code-named Steelhead, had spotted the spacecraft when it was descending on its parachute. The destroyer was about six miles (10 km) away when it radioed Glenn that it would reach him shortly. The Noa came alongside Friendship 7 seventeen minutes later.

What the USA had shown was the ability to put a man in orbit and bring him back alive. We were all sure that America would easily meet President Kennedy’s ten-year timeline to reach the surface of the moon.

I was the proudest kid at Spring Valley Elementary School that day! It all happened on my birthday.

Next AlmanacExponential ankle weirdness 

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Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Authors: How do YOU define success? Updated 9/2018

1.    the accomplishment of an aim or purpose.
"the president had some success in restoring confidence"
favorable outcome, successfulness, successful result, triumph
"the success of the scheme"
o   the attainment of popularity or profit.
"the success of his play"
"the trappings of success"
o   a person or thing that achieves desired aims or attains prosperity.
"I must make a success of my business"

Any of these definitions could apply to you and your writing. If you don’t think any of them do apply to you, I wonder what your definition of success for an author might be. More on that in part 2 of this topic.

My definition might have been cobbled together from this list. It wasn’t. I pulled the list off Google on February 10, 2017.

I’ve been writing “professionally” since 2013. I was a writer before then, but I wasn’t serious enough about it to invest the time required. In point of fact, the reality of needing to make enough money to support my family was more important than the time commitment until I retired.

My definition of success as a professional writer has matured since my first book was accepted for publication.

My first definition of success was “get published.” 
I sent a manuscript to a couple of publishers. While I was waiting to hear from the second one, I learned of the process of co-publishing through KoehlerBooks. The first book I sent to them, Traveler’s HOT L, was picked up for co-publication with ten days.

An Aside
I should have investigated thoroughly before I let my ego make a decision. 

Writer’s Digest has this to say about co-publishing.
A co-publishing agreement is one where the author and the publisher share publication costs to get the book in print. This is more common in poetry and experimental fiction than in others, but does happen in all walks of publishing. 
The bad news: It costs the author some money upfront to get the book published. The good news: The author gets a much, much bigger share of the profits. More risk is put on you as the author, but that risk can reap a higher reward. It’s a trade off you have to consider before diving in to this type of agreement.

Some money could go as high as $10,000. Bigger share ended up as $1.00/book in my case.

The best definition of the best use of co-publishing is “if you want to sell your book at the back of the auditorium after you speak.”
One of my students from Great Oak High found this in the bookstore at San Diego State University. They have an "Alumni Author Section." I was excited when she put this on Facebook.
 There is a real “good news/bad news” aspect to the speed of that process. 

      1.   I was published—with an advance! Okay, the advance was $100
          but it was an advance on royalties.
      2.   Two editors liked the book. 
      3.   They thought my manuscript was well-edited.

      ·      They thought the book was well edited. That ended up being more
          curse than blessing.

My second definition of success was “make money.” 
This is a logical morph once you've been successful as defined in definition #1. 

Fame was also part of this definition. It wasn’t a big part, though. I had a successful career as a science teacher. I received school, district, county, state, and national recognition for my teaching. I’ve also had over 5000 students, most of whom still say nice things about me. 

I’ve had more than my 15-minutes of fame.

Initially, I had a goal of selling 5000 copies of Traveler’s HOT L in 2014, the year it was published. It won the Best Science Fiction Novel in the USA Best Book competition. I expected/hoped to recoup my investment and make some money that year.

I am still waiting to receive a royalty payment on Traveler's HOT L from the publisher. According to the royalty statements I get, all my royalties—about a buck a book, remember?—have gone to restocking fees, etc. As of September, 2018, I’ve sold between 300-400 copies of Traveler’s HOT L. Most of those are sales at book signings and other personal appearances.

My third definition of success “getting books out.” 
I published like a mad man during the first two years of my professional writing career. I have 7 fiction titles and 4 non-fiction titles with publication dates between 2014 and 2016.
This is an old screenshot of my site. Click this to visit my website. It's got a new look and more titles.

That sounds like I met this definition. Unfortunately, there was an underlying issue that seriously diluted the good feelings. We’ll pick up the next blog with the remainder of my morphed definitions of success as a professional writer.

Yep. There are more! 

Next Authors post: Fine-tuning a Definition of Success.

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My website is: www.crdowning.com
I'd appreciate your feedback!

Monday, February 6, 2017

A Science Guy's Almanac: Confirmation of ankle damage and just plain weirdness

Brief Recap
I sprained my ankle running with my soccer team. After icing it, I decided to go home. My main job at Monte Vista High was as a biology teacher, coaching was “extra duty.”
My biology room was about one of the furthest-distanced rooms from the PE area. I parked in the faculty lot closest to my classroom. I limped quite a long time/distance in one shoe and one cold, soggy sock.
At the time, I drove a 1968 VW Bug. It was yellow with red Naugahyde interior to mimic Monte Vista’s crimson/gold motif. It had a 4-speed manual transmission. [That sentence is italicized for a reason.]
I opened the driver’s door and tossed my clothes onto the passenger seat.
I climbed in.
I shut the door and put the key in the ignition.
I pushed in the clutch.
. . .
The next thing I remember is snapping my head back while awakening after passing out from the pain from my left ankle while pushing in the clutch.

I realized my ankle was hurt pretty badly. Even with that insight, I had to drive to my doctor’s office, about 2.5 miles away.
In my 1968 VW.
With the manual transmission.
And the pain-inducing clutch.

I used my heel to push the clutch pedal and hiccupped out the driveway. I revved the motor as much as I dared and sifted from 1st gear directly into 3rd gear.
I drove from MV to my doctor’s office without shifting again.
I sped up and slowed to more hiccupping to miss stopping at red lights.
I pulled into the parking area at the doctor’s office and turned the motor off to stop.

I limped into the office.
The receptionist, who—because of my frequent visits—knew me by name, looked up.
“What’d happened this time?” she asked.
“I sprained my ankle.”
“Uh, huh. Just limp on through the door. Go into the first room on the right. I’ll be right in with the most recent of your files*.” *I may have embellished the receptionist’s part, but it’s true in spirit.

Doctor Webster came in. He looked at my swollen ankle and prodded it. I suspect he thought he was being gentle. My ankle disagreed.
“This is too swollen to do anything with right now,” he said. “Even an X-ray wouldn’t be of much value. Go home. Keep your ankle above your waist and keep ice on it for 48 hours. Come back in two days.”
Pretty much my situation, although I remember my ankle colors as being much more dramatic.
I did what he said to do. I attended a meeting with the construction committee from my church and the architect we were working with, which made the ankle above the waist part of my assignment tricky. Overall, however, I did pretty well with the ice and the elevation.

Two days later, my ankle was less swollen, but it was a pallet of colors—all blues, black, and purples. Dr. Webster took an X-ray.
“You pulled a tendon loose,” he explained while showing me the film. He pointed at the X-ray and continued, “This might be a bone chip. It’s close enough to where is would have come from that I’m going to put a cast on and take another X-ray in two weeks. If that chip’s still there, we’ll send you to an orthopedist.”

I left the office with a plaster cast.

The next milestone in this odyssey occurred while coaching a soccer match. I was seated with my crutches leaning on the bench beside me. The game was close—typical. I was focused on the field.

“Coach,” a voice broke my concentration, as did the awareness of a hand on my thigh. Even though it was January, temperatures were in the 70s. I was wearing my coaching shorts.
Even though this is a "football coach" photo, the coaching shorts are the same ones. Notice they are actually SHORT.

I turned to the player who’d spoken.
“I was going to ask you about something, but I’ve changed my mind,” was the response to my look.
“Okaaay,” I managed.
“Did you know your leg is seriously cold?” he asked.
“Really. Your leg is like ice.” When I didn’t react, he added, “Check it yourself.”
I touched my left leg. It felt like my leg.
I touched my right leg. While it, too, felt like my leg, I realized it felt warm.
I touched my left leg again. The player was right—that leg was COLD compared to my right leg.
“Wow, you’re right. Thanks for letting me know.”

The game continued.
We lost. Check two Almanac blogs before this one. You’ll see that was the norm that season.
After the game, I stopped at Dr. Webster’s office.
I was ushered into the same room I’d occupied on the day I broke my ankle. I sat on the high examination table while waiting for the doctor.
He came in and asked what was going on.
I told him.
He touched both legs.
“Is it like this all the time?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” I answered.
“Swing your legs up on top of the table.”
I did.
“I’ll be back in a few minutes to check the temperatures again.”

Five minutes later, he felt both legs a second time.
“Feel these now,” he directed.
I did. They were the same temperature.
“Swing your legs back over the side of the table.”
I did.
In less than a minute, my left leg was frigid.
Dr. Webster hurried out of the room.

When he returned, he was carrying an electric saw.
Probably the wrong color, but definitely the correct kind of saw.
“I’m cutting the cast off, just in case that’s the problem. I’ve admitted you to the hospital. Get someone to pick you up from here and get over there right away.”

I was a cast-less in in-patient at Grossmont Hospital within the hour.

Next Almanac: Reprise. A Science Guy's Almanac #4: What John Glenn and I have in common - Re: 2/20/1962 

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